Sunday, December 30, 2012

Bhopal BRTS - dismantle the corridor

Of late, there have been reports that the Bhopal Municipal Corporation is going top operationalise the Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS) from the 1st January 2013. A fiat seems to have been issued in this regard by the Municipal Commissioner and the officials concerned are reported to be working overtime to carry out the dictat. That the bus corridor and the roads for the normal traffic are far from ready does not seem to concern the Commissioner. His anxiety is to somehow commission the project. Perhaps there is pressure from above and if there indeed is any, one can understand the reasons. The completion of the project has been inordinately delayed. Approved in April 2006 the work on the project could not start before February 2009. Over the last four years or so the Municipal Corporation has missed as many as four deadlines for its completion.

The ambitious JN National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) under which the project is being implemented was launched in 2005. Since then BRTSs have been commissioned in New Delhi, Ahmedabad, Jaipur and Pune. While at many places these are under construction, in many others they are still in planning stage. The Bhopal System that is under-construction for around four years, however, does not quite hold out an example to others for emulation.

The initial mistake seems to have been to allot the project to the Municipal Corporation for implementation. The Corporation, as is evident, has less than modest capability. When it is not able to carry out its day to day civic functions to the satisfaction of the people, to expect it to competently and efficiently implement this massive project in time was futile. One can only wonder at the wisdom of the state government in handing over the project to the local body knowing full well its track record of all–round failure in rendering civic services. Jaipur and Ahmedabad created special purpose vehicles (SPV) for construction of their respective BRTSs and these were completed well in time. They are now in the stage of planning for further extensions.

Ahmedabad BRTS
Ahmedabad BRTS is reported to be so good that it has elicited inquiries from several foreign countries, especially from South-East Asia and Africa. It was developed by Gujarat Infrastructure Development Board which entrusted the designing work to the Centre of Environmental Planning & Technology University (CEPT). The Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation, Ahmedabad Urban Development Authority and the Gujarat government established Ahmedabad Janmarg Ltd, a special purpose vehicle to execute the project. Incidentally, the CEPT has since been engaged by the MP government to suggest measures for effective conservation of the Upper Lake. Why it could not be engaged for designing the Bhopal BRTS is a question that needs to be answered by the government. 

The Bhopal Citizens’ Forum had requested the state Chief Secretary many months ago to constitute, in absence of a SPV, a fully empowered authority for planning and overseeing the implementation of the Project as also for effective deployment of both, financial and human resources. It was contended that such an empowered body would be able to take prompt decisions and clear obstacles in construction, wherever they occurred. This, however, was not agreed to and the Municipal Corporation is carrying out the work with its lees than adequate capability and acumen. The result is there for all to see. Many stretches of the road are still incomplete. Of the two flyovers to be constructed in the older portion of the town one is under construction, the other one is still in the design stage. Even the Habibganj railway over-bridge is nowhere near completion.

Unlike other BRT systems in the country the one in Bhopal is to pass through the old parts of the town where the roads are narrow and have no space for the six lanes that are necessary for it. What, therefore, is being done is to push back the walls of the government and semi-government properties as far as possible. In regard to the private properties nothing much, however, can be done and there are any number of them. Only time will tell whether taking the System right through the narrow and congested roads of the old city was wise or not.  

Another mistake made in planning the system seems to have been in reckoning the width of the roads on two sides of the corridor on the basis of the traffic volumes of the middle of last decade. Since then the number of vehicles of all types on the roads has increased manifold. The up and down carriageways for the ordinary vehicular traffic are, therefore, going to be far too inadequate with the constant addition of private and commercial vehicles on the roads. In an interview the municipal officials admitted this fact. With their myopic vision what they have done, therefore, is to impose a permanent handicap on the city’s traffic on its busy arterial roads. 

The Municipal officials have now reportedly expressed their feeling that the BRTS (presumably with its bus corridor) is a Western concept which has been imposed on this country. Surely, at the time of planning they could have kept in mind the local conditions. While there are still not very many buses plying in the city, the corridor is going to remain under-utilised for many years, what with lack of feeder services and absence of parking spaces near the stops. The main purpose of the BRTS of nudging people from personalised transport to public transport is, therefore, going to remain unfulfilled for quite some years, given the snail’s pace at which the Municipal Corporation carries out its works.

In the circumstances, one tends to feel that for the sake of ensuring smoother traffic flows perhaps it would be worthwhile to do away with the corridor. Three plus three lanes right through the corridor for up and down traffic should be adequate provided its movement is strictly managed. In that event traffic police will have to become more proactive in training, controlling and monitoring the traffic and strictly dealing with traffic offenders. There are unlikely to be bottlenecks and buses and other vehicles are likely to move at a reasonable pace. Dismantling of the corridor would, surely, mean waste of the money already spent. The Municipal Corporation should have no qualms about it, having wasted lakhs on enlarging several rotaries and then again reducing their sizes. This has gone on for years. But the wastage that is feared may in fact yield savings by way eliminating wastage of fuel in vehicles moving on low gears or stuck in jams or because of frequent stoppages at bus stops where traffic lights are proposed to be put up for the passengers’ safe cross-over to the buses in the corridor. 

It is not yet too late. The question of doing away with the corridor could still be reconsidered. It seems it will be more beneficial than having a virtually empty corridor with up and down carriageways on its sides chock-a-block with vehicles.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Indian Cricket @ 80

      cricket @ 80.html

India is celebrating “80 years of Test cricket”. The country played its first ever Test match in the Lord’s cricket ground in London against England in the summer of 1932 and has since then become a name to reckon with in cricket-playing countries.
Although India lost the Test by 158 runs there were some sterling performances that were acknowledged even by Wisden, the almanac that is reckoned as the “Bible of Cricket”. Playing against the likes of Herbert Sutcliff, Eddie Paynter, Wally Hammond and Douglas Jardine, all big names in international Cricket, the Indians were not quite overawed; in fact they did not do too badly in their first official outing. Even Wisden appreciated the performances of two speedsters Amar Singh and Mohammed Nissar, the agility in the field of Lall Singh who, later in the second innings in partnership with Amar Singh, indulged in some lusty hitting making 74 runs in just 40 minutes. The Indian team would probably have fared better had some of its players, especially the side’s best batsman and officiating skipper, Col. CK Naidu, not been suffering from injuries.
“Tests” are cricket matches between two national teams and came to be known as such as they were of gruelling character that tested the relative strengths of the two sides. They are also the longest form of cricket matches between representative national cricket teams with “Test status”, which is accorded by the International Cricket Council (ICC). Reckoned ultimate in testing a side’s ability, skills of its members and, of course, their endurance, playing a test match even now is an ambition nursed by numerous cricketers despite the growing popularity of lucrative shorter varieties of cricket matches. Tests are now regulated to be played over a period of five days – each side playing two innings. Not many probably are aware that earlier Tests used to be “timeless”, i.e. they were played till completion of both innings regardless of the number of days taken in doing so.
The country had to wait for around six years to play its first official Test after having been invited into the Imperial Cricket Council (ICC’s former avatar) in 1926. Starting as a “minnow” in 1932 – like what Zimbabwe is today – India has developed over the years into a strong cricketing nation. Playing at home and abroad, it has registered wins practically against every other cricket playing country even on foreign soil. In the “Wisden on India”, an anthology brought out in 2011 charting Indian cricket, Jonathan Rice, a respected cricket writer said in his Introduction that by winning the 2011 World Cup India became “the only nation to have won world cricket titles in the 60-over, 50-over and 20-over formats. They are currently ranked as the number one Test nation”.
Cricket was brought to the country by the Englishmen in early 1700s. The first match was, reportedly, played in 1721 between two teams that were made only of Englishmen. Not until 1877 the Englishmen invited the Parsees, who had formed their own club in 1848, to play against them. Later, in the earlier years of the 20th Century teams were formed community-wise and thus Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Parsees used to play Quadrangular tournaments every year with the Europeans. In 1937 a fifth team called “The Rest” including Christians, Jews, Buddhists and Singhalese was allowed into the tournament making it Pentangular. However, to discourage communal divisiveness in the game the pentangular tournaments were discontinued in 1946. By this time, however, Ranji Trophy competitions, instituted in 1934 in the name of Ranjit Singh, Jam Saheb of Nawanagar who used to play for England, had taken off in which teams constituted on geographical basis took part. The competition has been carried forward and is now played among the teams of various states. It is a tournament vital for throwing up players for selection in the national team.
During the early years cricket was played only in small pockets in the country. Big cities like Bombay and Calcutta, Delhi and Lahore (now in Pakistan) had taken the lead. Many princes of the former Indian states like Patiala, Holkar, Baroda also patronised cricket, hence, many cricketers gravitated to some of these states seeking better opportunities to play competitive cricket. Cricket was popular also in the princely states of what were earlier Rajputana and Kathiawad. Kathiawad, in fact, produced two “Greats” – Ranjit Singh, Jam Saheb of Nawanagar and his nephew Kumar Sri Duleep Singhji. Both played for England as did another feudal, Nawab Iftikhar Ali of Pataudi. However, the first two found places in the prestigious Wisden’s Hall of Fame. Nawanagar in Kathiawad also produced another Indian great who is known the world over as Vinoo Mankad. His cricketing exploits in England and India during the post-War and early post-independence years are legendary.
The British Indian government thought it unthinkable to send representative Indian teams abroad unless captained by a Maharaja regardless of his competence in the game. Thus, the Maharaja of Porbandar and Maharaj Kumar of Vizianagaram (popularly known as Vizzy) led the 1932 and 1936 Indian teams, respectively, though each of them never measured up to the standards of a test player. The Indian team’s 1946 tour of England was captained by the Nawab Iftikhar Ali Khan of Pataudi, who, however, having been pulled out of retirement, was well past his prime.
Cricket in India was indeed an elitist game, to start with, patronised as it was by the British and the princes. It is an expensive game requiring several accessories as also a specially made pitch to bowl and bat on. Played generally among the urban upper middle classes, it was beyond the affordability of many – individuals, organisations or institutions. Not requiring expensive appurtenances, field hockey was, therefore, more popular and, as is well known, India won a string of gold medals in successive Olympics during those early decades of the 20th Century. Cricket’s ‘democratisation’ commenced even as the country’s political independence came within sniffing distance when Lala Amarnath, an all-rounder of repute, was appointed captain for the first tour of Australia in 1947-48.
During the early post-independence years the overwhelming presence of players from regions where the game had been played for decades, especially Bombay, was significantly manifest in the national team. Slowly, over a few decades things started changing.  As cricket’s popularity crept out and away from the urban centres into the hinterland – even to the badlands of North India – a distinct change progressively became apparent in the composition of the national teams. The teams, of late, have players hailing virtually from every region and from even small towns and villages displaying a more representative character. The game has become unbelievably popular in the country so much so that it is played in the open spaces in the villages with crude, improvised equipment. It is now virtually a national obsession.
The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), despite its several deficiencies, was mostly responsible for spread of cricket to all parts of the country as it methodically promoted the game. The erstwhile government-owned All India Radio also massively chipped in by way of airing running commentary of test matches. In the beginning, the commentating used to be in English that, naturally, restricted its listenership. Later, however, with the introduction of Hindi commentary, coupled with the advent of transistorised cheap and portable radios, cricket reached practically every nook and cranny of the country. The 1983 World Cup victory gave its popularity a tremendous boost. With the proliferation of TV sets live visuals of a cricket match in vibrant colours are taken right into every home enabling even the uninitiated in the game to enjoy it. The shorter versions of the game, especially “Twenty-20”, the bang-bang variety, have opened up cricket for enjoyment to a vast section of spectators generally ignorant about cricket’s technicalities.
The country’s vast population of cricket-obsessed fans constitutes a massive market in which cricket is sold, especially by TV channels, generating mindboggling amounts of ad revenues. In the process, the BCCI has become so rich that it has acquired unprecedented commercial clout in the cricketing world, arousing envy among the game’s former patrons. The cricketers too have gained and are paid such handsome amounts that numerous young men try and make a career of the game.
The preceding eighty years of Indian cricket have been remarkable. Not only numerous players, down the years, acquired international standing, two cricket administrators even became presidents of the ICC. Currently Sachin Tendukar is considered an all-time great having scored 100 centuries in both formats. He has just retired from one day internationals after having scored a staggering 18000 odd runs with 49 centuries including a double ton. Some of the former players travel the world commentating on matches. The Indian Premier League – a Twenty-20 tournament – played by professionals launched by the BCCI six years ago, is much sought after as the best of foreign players offer themselves in auctions. If picked up, it offers them opportunities to make very fast millions.
Although during the last couple of years the performance of the country’s team has been somewhat indifferent, yet hopefully it will soon find its former winning ways and its cricketing ability and performance will rise to greater heights before the time comes to celebrate a Century of Indian Cricket.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Benazir Palace - negleted heritage of Bhopal

Benazir Palace - photo from Internet
The recent controversy about the (sub) leasing away of the Benazir Palace grounds in Bhopal to Nagarjuna Construction Company (NCC) for the shooting of Prakash Jha’s next film “Satyagraha” revealed the apathetic and negligent manner the Madhya Pradesh Government deals with its assets. The asset in question is no ordinary landed asset; it is a heritage property to boot, of the Nawabi era. 

Built in 1877 by Nawab Shahjehan Begum, a great builder like her namesake Mogul Emperor Shahjehan, the Palace was meant to be a pleasure pavilion.  Overlooking the Motiva Talia, one of the three cascading lakes built around the same time to harvest the run-off from the neighbouring Idaho Hills, Benazir Palace is now more than 130 years old and, by all reckoning, should have been treated as a heritage property about thirty years ago. But, no, it was never treated as one and was, very curiously, in the possession of the local medical college. How it went in the possession of the College that is only 57 years old is what beats everyone. Worse, the College, exercising its property rights, leased it out to NCC, which, in turn, leased it out to Prakash Jha’s film outfit, reportedly, for a sum Rs. 5 laky. It is a curious case of a lessee sub-leasing its rights over a property which essentially is public property. Obviously, the district administration was in the know of the transaction as permission for Prakash Jha to shoot in the Palace premises was accorded by the local District Collector.

A richly carved wall
It was only when the media and the Bhopal Citizen’s Forum raised a furore that the government woke up to the mess that had been created. The Medical College did not have a clue that what it had in its possession was a heritage property and no less. It seemed to have had no qualms in palming off the Benazir grounds to the NCC for a paltry sum for the specious reason that it was involved in some construction on a nearby site. When Prakash Jha came along the lessee must have found it a god-sent opportunity to make some money on the side. Thankfully as a result of the big splash in the Times of India all the irregularities in dealing with the matter have been done away with. The government worked overtime to ready a notification indicating the Palace as a “Protected Monument”. The small delegation of Bhopal Citizens’ Forum had occasion to see it when it met the Commissioner Archaeology. The notification must have been issued by now.

It is not the Benazir Palace alone that the state government has been found to be wanting in protecting Bhopal’s heritage structures. Over the years several such structures, including several gates of the former walled city of Shahjehanabad, were allowed to be occupied by unauthorised people.  Worse, the Taj Mahal Palace, so lovingly built by Shahjehan Begum which later earned kudos from the British high and mighty, too, was most unwisely allowed to be used as a refuge for post-independence migrants from Pakistan. This single thoughtless act of the then government of the province virtually destroyed the Palace. Likewise, Gol Ghar, once an aviary for the Begum and now has mercifully been restored and renovated, was also handed over to police outfits one after the other without the structure ever being cared for. The case of Benazir Palace has been no different. It was allowed to be used as a College. A fire in its laboratory badly damaged some of its parts. 

As reports say it is not quite clear about who owns the Palace. However, now that the Department of Archaeology is going to take it over, it is hoped it will be better cared for. Commissioner Archaeology has assured the Citizens’ Forum that even Prakash Jha’s film will be shot in the Palace premises under expert supervision (presumably of archaeologists). 

Taajul Masajid as seen from Benazir
In Madhya Pradesh the mess in maintenance of heritage properties has been created because the state has so far not created in various cities and towns Heritage Conservation Committees. Under the rules for conservation of heritage sites, buildings etc. such committees are to be constituted. One does not know how many heritage sites of historical and cultural significance have been lost to posterity for identification and recognition of their heritage value for want of such committees. It is not too late; perhaps even now the department of culture could initiate the process and constitute such committees at least for cities that have numerous heritage structures and sites located in them or in their vicinity.

2 Photos: By Ms. Bandana Bagchi

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Are we becoming uncivilised? we becoming uncivilised.html

This year it has been an extended Diwali. The fireworks on the night of 28th – almost 15 days after Diwali – starting off after 10.00 PM, continued well into the night. I couldn’t fathom whether it was because of the Gur-parb, Guru Nanak’s birthday, or because of the Hindu holy day of Kartik Poornima (full noon of the Hindu month of Kartik) or the day on which the Hindu gods and goddesses wake up after months’ of slumber heralding the marriage season.

 Whatever the reason this year life was miserable for around a fortnight in our parts. On the night before Diwali somebody close-by decided to try his hand on singing some folksy devotional stuff on the loudspeaker. Clearly a raw hand at the business of singing and that too in front of a microphone, he ended up screaming into mike and that carried through to hit my ears and presumably those of others’ too. Though somewhat hearing-impaired, the loud and jarring music kept me awake during the better part of the night. Worse, he decided to take to the mike well past eleven at night and continued right through until early hours of the morning. Curiously, there is a police station close to where the singer had stationed himself but the policemen, if awake during that hour, were dead to whatever was happening around.

On three succeeding post-Diwali nights also fireworks kept everyone in the neighbourhood awake. The loud reports of crackers and “bombs” continued intermittently until the early hours. Surprisingly, those who are fond of pyrotechnics do not believe in pursuing their activities at a decent hour. Looking for maximum effect of their pursuit they relish the quietude of the advancing night when people normally prepare to retire for the day. The idea is to get the biggest bang for the bucks that they spend in acquiring the explosives so that all the sleepy imbeciles and ninnies are shaken out of their beds. Commencing their activities only after 11.00 PM they would go on until an indecent hour. 

Obviously, the economic slowdown has had no impact on people in the neighbourhood. Annually rising cost of fireworks is not a matter of concern for them at all. Mostly traders, money is never a problem for them. Indulgent as they are with their children, they shop for enormous numbers of crackers and, that too, of the kind that produces the maximum decibels. For them the laws or orders of the Supreme Court are of no consequence. They have no qualms in letting loose their children in the progressing night with sack-loads of loud crackers to torment others. 

 Unmindful, as they are, of the breach of the orders of the Supreme Court or the laws regarding the permissible limits of decibel levels of fireworks, it is futile to expect from them concern for others. They hardly ever think of others; what matters to them is their own pleasure. That their thoughtless activities avoidably cause air and noise pollution is something that never crosses their mind. They expect everyone, young and old, sick and suffering to enthusiastically get into the Diwali spirit and endure the torment that they revel in inflicting on others. As I lay awake through these nights I wondered whether we in this city have progressively become more uncivilized.

The supposedly long arm of the law never reaches anywhere near them as the same, inexplicably, remains cosily retracted and is never extended to prevent the commission of the activities that are  decidedly illegal and uncivil, if not anti-social.  The enforcers of the laws, along with the perpetrators of the uncivil acts, seemingly think that the laws are only for the statute books and should remain buried in them and never exhumed to be used to bring about order and civility in the society.

A somewhat similar attitude becomes evident as soon as one steps on to the city roads. It is like a vibrant and pulsating jungle with anarchic vehicular traffic, whether of two or four wheelers. Everyone seems to be in a big hurry to reach wherever they are headed for and in the process they don’t give two hoots for the traffic rules and the right-of-way of other commuters. Separate carriage ways for up-and-down traffic or the roundabouts have long ceased to have any meaning for them. The proliferating massive, predatory and overbearing SUVs and MUVs driven by half-educated and untrained chauffeurs muscle in by dint of sheer bulk and heft scattering the humble lesser species of vehicles affirming that it is still “might is right” on the city roads. Again, the guardians of the law are either absent or inept if they happen to be present,

 Rules and courtesies of the roads are matters that most either are ignorant about or do not bother about just as they do not care about parking their vehicles in ways that do not inconvenience others. There are markets in the city where it is difficult to shop as two wheelers clog the approaches leaving no space for shoppers even to squeeze through. So what if the shopkeepers lose business?

One wonders where this country is heading for. A couple of decades of economic reforms seems to have put a lot of money into the pockets of many who, unfortunately, are not equipped by education or training to handle their disposable incomes without becoming pests for others. Worse, with the progressively declining influence of the law-enforcers the situation is only likely to get worse. One tends to thank one’s stars that mercifully the economic growth has slowed down quite a bit. Had it continued in the same break-neck pace for another few years breeding many more millions of fresh upstarts small-town India would have become by now a living hell for the law-abiding, decent, sober and sedate as also the elderly.

DISAPPEARING FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION Rama Chandra Guha, free-thinker, author and historian Ram Chandra Guha, a free-thinker, author and...